originally published on October 13, 2021
My goal with this newsletter is to introduce you to DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations). I am working on and will eventually publish an ultimate guide, which will go more in-depth into many of these concepts and provide you with many more examples.
When I found out about DAOs, I became obsessed. It was like discovering what the organisation of the future will look like. Maybe like the feeling that millennials felt when they entered a Google campus in the early 2000s. The only difference was that there was no campus; it was a bustling discord server with a governance platform, where from day one you get ownership, voting rights and pretty much full transparency on everything going on.
In essence, a DAO can be any type of organisation; the only difference is that its governance process is programmed into smart contracts and when decisions are made they are recorded into the blockchain. Think of your organisation’s rules, but in code. Most DAOs are highly decentralised to the point where there is no one person that can take major decisions, such as changing the governance process.
There are no international standards; they vary as to how decentralised or autonomous they are. However, when looking into a DAO you will often find the following characteristics:
The first DAO was created in 2016, although the concept had already been introduced earlier in 2013 by Dan Larimer (here) and Vitalik Buterin (here).
The first DAO was a real-life experiment that ended horribly wrong.
In 2016, the DAO was created on top of Ethereum, with the aim to function as a venture fund for new projects. Decisions would be made by all members owning tokens, and it raised around $150m (12.7m Ether at the time). This was the first viral moment for DAOs. However, less than two months after going live a hacker managed to exploit part of the code and take away Ether worth US$50m at that time (if you want to know more about how that code was exploited, click here.)
This eventually led to a very controversial decision to hard fork the network; the original “hacked” network is called today Ethereum Classic.
This was not good PR for DAOs and led to many very ambitious projects not getting as much attention as they should. Nevertheless, the community kept working and today there are hundreds of DAOs and dozens of tools that make it easy to create one without even needing blockchain or programming knowledge.
The best way to truly understand DAOs today is to become part of one or look at real ones. Not all the examples I give you here have the same principles or levels of decentralisation and automation embedded within how they work; however, for most DAOs it is a step-by-step process to get there.
**Started last year, with the aim of becoming a key part of the governance and funding of the Cardano network, with a treasury of $1 billion. Funds run every six weeks, when members of the Cardano community can create proposals for new business ideas and are then voted on by ADA token holders. The voting period for Fund 6 is currently happening right now, so if you want to know more about it or even become part of it click here.
There are already tens of thousands of members participating in Catalyst by creating proposals, being community advisors, or voting.
**The largest decentralised exchange for the Ethereum network, and the largest DAO by market cap. Since last September, anyone holding the UNI token has been able to vote or delegate their vote on decisions that help the day-to-day operations of the exchange. Here is an example of one of the latest votes.
**A group of blockchain enthusiasts who want to support the growth of the Ethereum network. The LAO presents itself as the future of venture capital. It has already invested more than $50M and blockchain founders are starting to want to be associated with them due to their ethos. If you want to know more about venture DAOs, you should read this article.
**A simple tool that helps members of communities visualise crypto treasuries. It is a key implementation tool, which makes it easier for people to understand transactions that are made in a DAO.
**A 360° solution to run a DAO with a very innovative way of decentralising the process of assigning budgets to certain domains of an organisation. However, due to the high Ethereum gas prices you need to wait until their v2 solution running on xDai is launched to create an organisation.
**A suite of tools that enables you to run a DAO, with a very user-friendly approach. It recently acquired Vocdoni, a digital voting solution for public and private organisations. This enables people to vote without having a personal crypto wallet, which will be important to drive adoption early on.
There are many more tools out there, and many will be covered in my forthcoming newsletters. But If you want to dive into the rabbit hole right away you can click here.
For now, DAOs are mainly reserved for companies that live mostly on the internet. However, I can’t stop thinking about what the implications will be when the tools and principles used by DAOs go mainstream. I believe it could become a competitive advantage for more traditional companies to implement many of these tools and principles. Imagine a hotel that gave you a small share of ownership and voting power as soon as you become an employee. Many of the governance processes that happen today involving advisory boards, boards of directors, internal committees, and a long list of lawyers and auditors could be scaled up to the entire organisation without harming the quality of governance, but actually improving it.
Today, with our current legal and financial frameworks, the situation I describe above wouldn't be feasible for a business owner.
The future picture isn’t completely rosy, however; there are many issues that DAO founders and tool builders need to solve, such as:
Many of these problems are already being tackled by companies like Aragon or lawmakers and given the convincing picture below, I believe they will be sorted. DAOs are here to stay.